EATON TWP. — Down 23-20 in a pivotal Game 3, Amherst volleyball coach Laurie Cogan pleaded with her Comets during a timeout, telling them it wasn’t too late to rally.
She was right.
It wasn’t too late and Amherst did rally, winning its first Division I volleyball district championship since 2003 with a 24-26, 25-21, 31-29, 25-18 victory over Southwestern Conference rival and co-champion Olmsted Falls at Midview on Thursday night.
Amherst (23-2) advances to the Sweet 16 at Norwalk on Wednesday night against either Toledo St. Ursula Academy or Toledo Notre Dame Academy, which play Saturday.
“I told the kids there’s so many ways to win a volleyball game,” Cogan said. “You’re only out of it if you quit. (Olmsted Falls) is a team prone to make some mistakes. If you can force them into making either physical or mental mistakes, we can come right back and get this. You just can’t stop believing.”
“We were serving for game-point three times but we just couldn’t finish the game,” Olmsted Falls coach Dawn Moses said. “It’s the defensive effort that Amherst puts forth on the floor. It’s hard to match that intensity. They just play great defense.”
“We lost focus,” said Amherst senior Courtney Jarvis, the heart and soul of the Comets who led the attack with 27 kills. “Coach told us to start thinking about what we needed to do. If Percy (junior setter Lauren Percival) puts a good set up, it’s guaranteed that Deme (freshman Deme Morales) would put it down.”
It was Jarvis who swatted down an unreturnable ball and Abby Burgdorf and Olivia Sliman combined on a block to draw Amherst within a point. The game was back-and-forth from there until Jarvis’ soft tip at the net found the open floor to break a 29-all tie and Morales, who had 23 kills, finished it with a powerful swing.
“I got after her like I’ve never gotten after her,” Cogan said of Morales, her phenomenal freshman. “I think the young lady has ice in her veins. She is a fearless competitor. She looks you in the face. She will take whatever constructive criticism you give her and the next thing you know, she’s executing a ball that probably only she could execute. She is absolutely a dream.”
“I’m so thankful that (Deme) she’s able to do what she’s been doing,” Jarvis said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman. Her mentality is more like a junior or a senior.”
“Last year we came this far and lost in five (games) to Elyria,” said Percival, who had 16 assists and five blocks. “Right now I don’t have words to describe how I’m feeling.”
Amherst lost a game point in the first game when Cogan attempted to call time out when she had already used her allotted two. Ironically, Olmsted Falls lost a game to Amherst earlier this year with the same violation.
The Comets battled back to take the second game by four after building leads of 14-7 and 21-14 along the way. That set up a classic third game that included 10 tie scores and six lead changes. Amherst broke a 12-all tie in Game 4 and never gave up the lead down the stretch.
Ashley Aponte led Amherst’s defensive effort with 12 digs, while Jarvis had 11 and Sliman eight. Brittany Walter had seven blocks while Jarvis and Burgdorf contributed four each. Bridget Beury had two saves.
Falls, playing in its first Division I district, had won the past three Division II titles and finished the year 21-4. The Bulldogs had tremendous efforts from senior setter Julie Radigan and hitter Calli Roberts and junior hitters Christine Peffer, Lauren Whyte, Calli Roberts and Brittany Snider along with freshman setter Dayna Roberts.
“Our kids played great,” said Moses. “We have great youth on the floor. Our seniors finished with a 94-11 record (four years). I’m not sure they could have put much more effort into it.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.